Ask these questions before using technology in the classroom

Trudacot is a new question-based model for using classroom technology in support of learning goals

questions-trudacotWe have a lot of technology floating around our classrooms these days. And while that can be, and is, a good thing given our digital age, we often find that our technology-related efforts aren’t paying off for us quite as we’d hoped.

We still, for example, see a lot of replicative use—doing the same things that we used to do in analog classrooms, only with more expensive tools—and we see many teachers using technology simply for technology’s sake. There are many reasons why all of this is true, but a primary one is that we don’t have great ways to think about what is occurring when we see students and teachers using technology for learning and teaching purposes.

Starting with purpose
Technology integration should be purposeful. When digital technologies are used for learning and teaching, those uses should be intentional and targeted. The innovation team at Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency in Iowa, where we work, continually asks the question, “Technology for the purpose of what?” With that in mind, we set out to create a template of questions that would allow educators to think critically—and purposefully—about their technology integration.

That template is trudacot, a free protocol intended to help facilitate educator conversations about deeper learning, student agency, and technology integration. Trudacot is an acronym for Technology-Rich Unit Design And Classroom Observation Template. We joke that it’s like an apricot, only sweeter!

Next page: Questions for promoting student agency, authentic learning, and critical thinking

While school leaders are not directly involved in the delivery of instruction, it’s important for them to realize that all technology use does not result in the same levels of learning. For example, if a class activity was using technology to enhance personalization or enable greater student agency, the types of questions that we would ask to see if those purposes were being accomplished might include:

  • Learning Goals. Who selected what is being learned?
  • Learning Activity. Who selected how it is being learned?
  • Assessment of Learning. Who selected how students demonstrate their knowledge and skills and how that will be assessed?
  • Work Time. During the lesson/unit, who is the primary driver of the work time?
  • Technology Usage. Who is the primary user of the technology?

In contrast, if teachers wanted students to use technology to enable them to do more authentic, real world work, the types of questions that we would ask to see if those purposes were being accomplished would differ:

  • Real or Fake. Is student work authentic and reflective of that done by real people outside of school?
  • Domain Knowledge. Are students learning discipline-specific and -appropriate content and procedural knowledge? If yes, is student work focused around big, important concepts central to the discipline (not just minutiae)?
  • Domain Practices. Are students utilizing discipline-specific and appropriate practices and processes?
  • Domain Technologies. Are students utilizing discipline-specific and appropriate tools and technologies?

Similarly, if a lesson or unit integrated learning technologies to facilitate students’ deeper thinking, creativity, or metacognition, we would ask yet a different set of questions:

  • Deeper Thinking. Do student learning activities and assessments go beyond facts, procedures, and/or previously-provided ways of thinking (e.g., syntheses or analyses that actually are just regurgitations)?
  • Creativity. Do students have the opportunity to design, create, make, or otherwise add value that is unique to them?
  • Initiative. Do students have the opportunity to initiate, be entrepreneurial, be self-directed, and/or go beyond given parameters of the learning task or environment?
  • Metacognition. Do students have the opportunity to reflect on their planning, thinking, work, and/or progress? If yes, can students identify what they’re learning, not just what they’re doing?

Trudacot offers a way to think about the goals for technology use by providing some specific, concrete “look-fors” that can help educators reflect on what they might change. Trudacot can be used by a school leader in a conversation about a lesson or unit—preferably in small groups, not just individually—to ask: If we wanted the answer(s) to the question(s) to be different, how could we redesign this to make that desired answer happen instead?’ This is where the powerful conversations occur; this is the work we should be doing with educators.

Next page: How to use trudacot

Using trudacot
First and foremost is the suggestion for users to focus on just one or two sections of the template. Unless teachers are designing a big, multi-week project, they need to pick and choose a few focal areas rather than trying to cover the entire template. We are also finding trudacot to have the most power as an up-front brainstorming, idea-generating, and design tool—not an after-the-fact evaluative tool. We want educators thinking about lesson and unit (re)design in ways that are safe and generative. We don’t want them worrying about being judged. One great way to do this is to first use trudacot to look at lessons that are not their own in order to minimize defensiveness. The trudacot template should not be used as a massive checklist of things that should be present in a teacher’s lesson or unit.

Version 2.0 of trudacot is now available and includes annotations and tips for usage. In addition to the trudacot itself, we have numerous other resources and examples of trudacot in practice. We hope that you find trudacot useful to your district’s technology integration efforts and that it helps you foster rich discussions about lesson and unit (re)design with your educators.

Please stay in touch as you have questions, ideas, and suggestions; we are happy to set up an online meeting with you to explain trudacot further. The trudacot template is very much a work in progress—help us make it better! The more people that we have looking at and working with trudacot, the more useful it can become.

Scott McLeod is director of innovation and Julie Graber is an instructional technology consultant for the innovation team at Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency in Iowa.

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